Hiatus

Thought it would be polite to mention that I’m going to have a blogging hiatus for a while. There’s nothing I want to say that I can articulate, and that’s frustrating, and I feel it means it must be time to stop trying and read more instead. See you on your blogs and if I comment, you’ll see me too.

Update: or (given that I already have a dozen things I want to record) maybe this blog will become a filter blog for a bit. Links. Mainly because I want more people than I can be bothered to email to see this 1935 colour film of the Thames, via Kellie. Mick Hartley links to more early C20th film studies of London. The British Film Institute has still more on its YouTube channel, upon one of which a commenters has submitted:

“a wonderful film from back when we had an Empire and it was shown in pink in all the atlas’s , those bits that weren’t pink …… i damn well coloured in myself.
Wonderfully nostalgic …. thanks for posting.”

Walking holiday in the Yorkshire Dales

As per this post, we went on Mark Reid’s Inn Way to the Yorkshire Dales and got back on Saturday afternoon.

innway

It was one of the best long distance walks I’ve done. I had a new pack (wore the old one through at the hips – you should have seen my hips) but nothing hurt whatsoever and I hardly used my poles – except the day Matt hubristicly decided to deviate from Mark Reid’s route and I was forced, as he says, “to tread on a rough rock”. I think we both regretted that afternoon in the eroded bog between Little Whernside and Great Whernside – put it this way, I can’t get my feet clean.

But the many turf tracks were a pleasure to walk on.

turf1

There were fascinating animals – birds, bunny upon bunny, ancient dogs who wanted only to be petted, cuddlesome cats, lambies and toads to kiss – everywhere.

toad

Everywhere. I’ve missed out all the wild birds.

lambs

Everywhere. This dog nearly garotted himself in pursuit of our affection.

dog

Everywhere. A chicken stole my tofu roll at Bolton Castle (but we got it back)

chicken

The wild flowers were enchanting.

violets1

The gills, becks, rivers and waterfalls made you want to linger.

water1

The weather was fabulous and the villages winsome.

arncliffe

…but it was early enough in the year for the innkeepers to light their enormous Yorkshire fireplaces at night.

fireplace2

The glacial valley views were awesome.

view

And the inns were almost all splendid. Our favourite was not so much splendid as tiny and perfect – the Victoria Arms in Worton.

victoria_worton3

There we met Roger, a punter, who had been born in the first pub we stopped at (Tennants Arms, Kilnsey), and another bloke, an emigre from Bermondsey, a newly redundant civil engineer (of an age where you could be apprenticed into it sans qualifications), who had just frozen the gravy given to him by the departing holiday cottagers next door. A word of advice – don’t sit under the fox’s back end – there’s a squirter behind the bar. And the toilets are outside as they were at the nearly equally perfect Falcon at Arncliffe where a sardonic man at a hatch serves swishes Timothy Taylor round in his jug before pouring it into your glass – they love a head on their beer in Yorkshire (but did hear somebody ask at a bar in Grassington for them to pump his drink with the sparklers off).

beer

What a holiday.

Other observations – I like a old-malty, very hoppy beer but, with the exception of Seabrook’s crisps new hot and spicy range, Yorkshire flavours are somewhat subtle for my palate. This includes the tea. Relatedly I think, North of Skipton we didn’t see a single dark-skinned face in the Dales (this is unnerving for a Bedfordian / Londoner).

It’s funny that baked beans are so rarely advertised on breakfast menus (though hash browns are usually mentioned).

We were surprised to find that in one inn the old towels had been left hanging on the door of our room, in another the shower didn’t drain, in another there was a half-used sachet of shampoo and an opened soap in the shower, and in a fourth, the sheet press had been left in the middle of the room (we dried our pants and socks on it).

The Dales rivers are beautiful – clear, shallow and fast-flowing. I really enjoyed walking across them. The Swale frequently rises 3 metres in 20 minutes.

Dales lambs vary in temperament from farm to farm. Some (the ones who are given molasses licks by their farmers, is my guess) would peg it towards Matt when he arrived in their field only to screech to a halt at the last minute, realising that, what, no flat cap, strange bare legs and a gingery beard – Jesus Christ it’s not him – it’s somebody else – and who the fuck is that with him?? Run, run for your life. Other lambs are wary.

The rabbits, whose rifle-shot corpses littered the tracks and roads, knew to run even at a distance of 200 metres. I found this very sad. You could tell the ones which had been preyed – their picked-over bones were scattered over metres. But we must have seen 150 abandoned corpses killed apparently for nothing, slowly dessicating in the hot sun at the side of the roads. Those shot rabbits and the frantic fear of the living ones were the only blight on the holiday.

In the Dales a packed lunch is a single round of sandwiches. I like this. On the Essex Way we were given Easter eggs and cakes and Tuc biscuits and cartons of juice. Matt used to spoon it all in while I looked on enviously.

We carry everything, and take a single change of clothes. This worried some people we met, but think about it. You get to your destination, shower, and then spend a clean 5 hours or so in your change of clothes in non-smoking environments. How dirty is that change of clothes going to get? You only need to take one. I took some flip-flops and toe socks too in case my feet got cold). And in fact, your evening clothes are the only things you could leave with a sherpa service. You need to keep your waterproof, fleece, first aid kit, water, etc with you for the day, and there’s no getting around the fact that that’s the stuff which weighs most.  If you are worried about your knees with a heavy pack, a pair of walking poles will save them – and poles are invaluable for testing spongey ground, balancing on rocks holding back brambles, exercising your triceps and many other things besides.

We kept missing Mark Reid. He’d stayed at the Kings Arms in Reeth the night before we did, and was due at The Bluebell in Kettlewell the day after us. Nice life. His books, by the way, are excellent. You begin with some statistics about the journey and its stages, there’s a list of pubs, contact details, amenities, and history, a list of towns and their amentities, and then the guts of the book is the stages – each chapter begins with a step-by-step guide to the route (turn right at the stile… ignore the 3 waymarks signposted to X… go through 4 gates… etc) and then comes the guide to each village. Between the book and a 1:25k Ordnance Survey Explorer map, we didn’t get lost (hardly used the GPS).

Appendix – vegan food. The Woolly Sheep in Skipton was very nice to me – chef came out to discuss and went off piste without prior warning (we’d have given notice of special dietary need but assumed we’d eat elsewhere in Skipton) and for breakfast they gave me unasked-for but very welcome soya milk and (the only one) margarine. The Buck Inn in Buckden did an unorthodox basmati mushroom risotto which was pretty tasty and came topped with parsnip curls. However – and they had gone out of their way to get the peanut butter, which I appreciated – my breakfast toast arrived with peanut butter spread on already, and to the extent that when scraped to manageable amounts I had enough over to cover 2.5 slices. This wasn’t a big deal – what was sad, and my own fault, was that I hadn’t remembered to ask for salad in my sandwiches for lunch and the peanut butter was spread half a centimetre thick there too. At the White Rose in Askrigg I had a nice marinated mushroom starter followed by stuffed pepper in tomato sauce and then two caramelly baked apples (they really made an effort). In the Fox and Hounds in West Burton they had a pizza oven and I had a very nice pizza with raw avocado instead of cheese, a great salad and a very excellent fruit salad too. The Kings Head in Gunnerside did an excellent lunchtime two-bean curry with half chips half rice. That was a very nice pub. The Kings Arms in Reeth, another beautiful inn, did something called a fricasse which turned out to be vegetables in tomato sauce again. But his breakfast was the best – to make up for the lack of margarine I had a hell of a lot of fried bread that week and some of it was shocking, but his was so good. And his coffee was excellent.

breakfast_reeth1

At the Bluebell Inn in gorgeous Kettlewell, they were strangely secretive about the chef’s vegan creation. It turned out to be vegetables in tomato sauce again. It was pretty nice, and you always appreciate any extra effort. But so often it was vegetables in tomato sauce. That’s why I have to work so hard to stave off protein malnutrition.

All-in-all, comparing it to Matt’s, I wasn’t satisfied with my food, although this is not at all particular to the Dales and I did appreciate the efforts of the various kitchen staff and others who prepared for me. This deserves recognition. But in general too often when I phone in advance I’m asked what I eat, and when I list what I eat (grains, seeds, pulses, vegetables, fruits, sugars, chocolate, nuts, oils, soya products – not effing Quorn) I’m told – incredibly, and often by front of house rather than the kitchen – that it’s going to be difficult to accommodate. Too often I’m asked what I want. Now, imagine I prepared myself a day-by-day menu of what I want, possibly (because after all I’m on holiday and hopeful of treats) taken from the menu of Manna, or Saf, or Rasa, or The Gate. Or even – more down to earth like – a veggie lasagna with soya bechamel and potato cheese. They’d laugh in my face and offer me vegetables in tomato sauce. I don’t want to be asked what I want. I want to be given a choice from a thought-out repertoire for such occasions. It’s happened before – this wonderful place, the Castle Inn in Cumbria – that I was given a choice of 4 starters and 4 mains, all of which were exciting – why not everywhere? Well, really I want to see vegan food dominating the menu, which is – as everybody who cares about the environment (if not sentient animals) knows, even if they reassure themselves meat must be fine because it continues to feature so heavily – the responsible thing to do. Only today Douglas Kell predicted food riots because the demand for food and energy would increase by 50% by 2030. And we feed soya and molasses to Dales sheep…

sheep_feed1

It’s a little bit fucked up.

But the Dales are beautiful (and partly because of the sheep)

skipton1

But we don’t got to eat em.

Spring Tunes V.2

The New Centrist says:

“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.”

I’ve been delving back, way back, for solace in the past.

King of the Slums – Idolator

Soul II Soul featuring Rose Windross – Fairplay

Speedy J – De-Orbit.

Ellen Allien and Apparat – Jet. Fantastic portrait of skybound aeroplanes. Good for climbing mountains to.

The Cure – Hey you (this is such a great song).

Goldie – Inner City Life. Just got to listening to this again.

Elbow – I’ve Got Your Number. A bitter song of betrayal – favourite in their most recent album.

I’m tagging (with uncertain prospects, but anyway)

New York Times piece on a vegan

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson won’t eat food with a face. But he does hang out with farm animals (very strange pictures).

At 68 here are lots of hints about his enduring virility and attractiveness in this piece.

I’m not his kind of vegan – I don’t have a mystical bone in my body. But I’m with him 100% when he says:

“When people say their chickens lead such a good life, I say, ‘According to whose definition of a good life, are parents separated from their young?’ ” he said. “Chickens like to fly. They like to take dust baths. They’re programmed to hide their eggs, so it would be very time-consuming to give them 10 acres and then go searching all over the place for the eggs.”

As somebody about to take off into Yorkshire, this last bit interested me:

“This summer, Mr. Masson and his wife and sons are going on a bicycling tour of Italy. “I can see a situation where we’ve been riding all day, and we’re going to be hungry and the Italian people are going to give us pasta with cheese and we don’t want to hurt their feelings,” he said. “So I may just not be vegan for two weeks.”

The feelings of Italian caterers more important than calves? I don’t get this. How does anything change if you don’t say and don’t ask? Phone ahead, find accommodation with enlightened owners, or just don’t go there.

Don’t put your papers on Tube train air vents

Free newspapers block the air conditioning on the Central Line

It’s that time of year again when air conditioning on underground trains begins to make its presence or absence felt. It’s the time of year when people start to pass out on a regular basis.

Further to this from InSpite, I’m standing on a Central Line train in the evening rush hour and it’s a cauldron of stale, steaming humanity. A careless, clueless, seated passenger reaches behind him and drops his finished-with free paper on top of the air conditioning. A few minutes later, the passenger next-door-but-one does the same. I observe this with feeling. I’m hot and my patience is evaporating. In crowded places, being unobservant and unthinking is inconsiderate. Sometimes it’s negligent. Sometimes it’s fatal. I have difficulty accepting that people who drop their papers on air conditioning vents aren’t, to some extent, tossers.

I get a seat at Liverpool Street. The woman next to me puts her paper on the airvent behind me. I reach round and take it off, along with three others. There are no racks, no shelves, no bins on the Central Line, so I put them on the floor in the middle of the aisle. Not at the end of the aisle where there is transit and shuffling and people may, if they are exceptionally unlucky, trip. Not in the spaces near the doors, for similar reasons. In the middle, where people may stand but rarely walk. And I really have difficulty figuring what else to do with this daily plague of pulped bark.

We get to Leytonstone. Another woman, another covered airvent. I take the paper and drop it on the floor.  And the man sitting to my right comes to life. He bends and starts fussing with the pile of papers near my feet. He picks them up and puts them on the seat next to him, turns to me and says, with a tight, slightly menacing smile, “We don’t throw things on the floor”.

“We?” I queried belligerently. He repeated like an automaton “We don’t throw things on the floor”.

I could have picked him up on the terrible hygiene of moving papers from a tube train floor (bathed in the filth of your London street) onto upholstery, but he struck me as a man who’d experienced a Pavlovian response and might not be amenable to reason. Perhaps when he used to drop things on the floor his mother rapped his knuckles. Perhaps this was an ongoing thing for him. So I returned to my book on social statistics and ignored the strange man.

Yeah, I’m a designer, of sorts, and I realise this is a design problem for Central Line trains which doesn’t affect, say, Victoria Line trains. But we are where we are, and I wish this stupid behaviour would stop.

InSpite is a Central Line user – maybe he has better ideas?

The Inn Way to the Yorkshire Dales: to-take list; vegan tribulations

It’s that time again when Matt and I prepare for our spring walk – this year a gentle 70 mile totter round the Inns of the Yorkshire Dales with B, if he permitted leave from designing a certain embassy to withstand explosive attacks.

Update: we did it.

The route is Mark Reid’s:

  • Stage 1 – Grassington to Buckden
  • Stage 2 – Buckden to Askrigg
  • Stage 3 – Askrigg to Reeth
  • Stage 4 – Reeth to West Burton
  • Stage 5 – West Burton to Kettlewell
  • Stage 6 – Kettlewell to Grassington

It’s that time when once I again I phone round the inns where we are staying each night, to break the news – which I usually get the impression is bad news – that I am vegan.

Vegetable sandwiches.

Jam sandwiches.

“Can you bring something with you?”

Faintly down the line, “Yeah, we’ll do her something.”

Please, more than a salad.

No, it’s not that I don’t like salad, it’s just that we’re walking a long way.

Why are they, while baulking at my request, telling me they cater for vegetarians, coeliacs and lactose intolerance?

Can I tell them I’ll relax about the small print of the ingredients of their bread without them thinking I’ll relax about cream in my risotto?

Fazed as these small business owners tend to be, I hardly have the heart to ask for nuts or pulses. I come back from these walks nutritionally depleted and missing London where, thanks to the enlightened, the health-conscious and the religious, I eat well.

The computer with my to-take list is at vets, so I’m writing it again.

Kit

  • 30 litre pack
  • Waterproof pack liner
  • Map case
  • OS Explorer maps
  • Compass
  • Walking books
  • Poles
  • Penknife
  • Bivy bag and space blanket
  • 2 water bottles
  • fire

Clothes

  • Pants
  • Socks
  • Walking boots
  • Sandles
  • Flip flops
  • Walking bra
  • Evening bra
  • Walking trousers
  • Evening trousers
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Walking t-shirt
  • Evening shirt
  • Fleece
  • Waterproof coat
  • Baseball cap
  • Gaiters

Electronics

  • MP3 player, earphones
  • GPS
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Chargers: camera, phone, battery, USB charger adaptor
  • Rechargeable AA batteries for GPS
  • Wind-up torch/radio/charger
  • Watch

Health

  • Plasters
  • Antiseptic cream
  • First aid kit
  • Second skin blister dressing
  • Tea-tree oil
  • Painkillers
  • Energy: sweets, seeds, nuts, dried fruit
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Sunglasses

Hygiene

  • Biodegradable wash for everything
  • Factor 50 sun cream
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Contact lenses and solution
  • Glasses case
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Hair conditioner
  • Deodorant
  • Hairband
  • Razor
  • Travel towel
  • Comb
  • Handkerchief

Misc

  • A book (perhaps a Bronte? More likely Roth’s Plot Against America)
  • Cash
  • Credit cards
  • Cheque book
  • Printed contact details and detail maps of where we have booked to stay (put these on the web)
  • Receipts for deposits
  • Clear plastic bags, plastic bags for dirty stuff
  • Eyeliner

Little Brother is watching (over) you

Wired UK is here. I thought this article on citizen surveillance of the police during the G20 protests was very interesting:

“We’ve grown used to the idea that amateur footage will trump the professionals in the moments after air crashes, floods and fires, but we haven’t yet grasped what that does to the balance of power between the state, the media and the individual.

 Surveillance is still talked of as something done to us by them, but increasingly it’s something done to everyone by everyone else. What that means for the authorities is that they can no longer control the flow of information about their actions.

They haven’t yet stopped trying. Without the camerawork of the New York fund manager who captured some of Tomlinson’s last moments, the final word on his death would have gone to the police: “[He] suffered a sudden heart attack while on his way home from work.”

The week-old footage that emerged today does not contradict that official statement, but it widens the lens through which we see the event, and it changes our perspective. Instead of the sober, considered response of a senior, media-trained officer, calmly delivered hours after the event, we’re in the thick of the action, seeing messy footage of jeering protesters and a policeman lunging at a middle-age man, who stumbles to the ground. It leaves little room for complacency.

The picture we see remains incomplete. We don’t see what happened before the camera started rolling and we barely see the baton strike. If only we could see it from another angle, if only we could hear what was said. As more evidence emerges and more footage surfaces, we may.

The reaction to this incident, like the fears about blacked-out CCTV, illustrate an interesting shift in attitude towards surveillance. People normally opposed to cameras are, for the moment, looking to them to protect civil liberties and guard the little guy against the threat of state oppression.”

Also on this watching, read Sarah.

Popova and Rodchenko – self-destructive Constructivism

Space Force Construction by Liubov Popova

Space Force Construction by Liubov Popova

I’ve been at the Rodchenko and Popova exhibition at Tate Modern – best I’ve been to in a good while.

Constructivism was the avant-garde art of the Soviet Revolution and the years that followed. It was preceded in Russia by (among other movements) Expressionism and a fusion of Cubism and Futurism, and utlimately overtaken by socialist heroic realism glorifying the proletariat. Because I found the artworks alienating, I would unsympathetically summarise Constructivism as a self-instrumentalising form which, in contrast to contemporaries like Kandinsky, aimed to eradicate all personal expression from the work. As Artist-Constructors, its practitioners viewed themselves as engineers. They yearned to free Constructivist art from their own bourgeois easels and realise it for wider consumption in dimensions largely denied to them by the subsequent decades of failed Soviet ideology which they themselves had helped to shape.

This piece was supposed to be about Liubov Popova, but you’ll have to clamber over Rodchenko, Mayakovsky, and the Tate Modern shop to get to her. Typical woman.

I’d like to forget about Rodchenko as soon as possible because I found him infuriating. Rodchenko investigated the line. He proceeded to eliminate tone, texture and surface as imitative or decorative, and he abandoned free hand drawing as  redunded by the compass, ruler and revolution. During his domination of the interdisciplinary research institute INKhUK, he debated against composition and in favour of the impersonality of Construction. He turned Constructivism in the direction of the end of painting. Constructivists duly began to refer to their paintings as ‘laboratory work’.

Rodchenko struck me as a herald of Stalinism – from his early attempts to eliminate the human from the artwork to his late Workers’ Club designs for the productive (and never solitary) recreation of the proletariat. At the same time as he was eradicating humanity from his art, he was simultaneously celebrating his own break-throughs in jarringly self-congratulatory terms in his writings.

In 1918 he had responded to Malevich’s industrial monochrome black square with his own piece, Black on Black. Preceding Rothko’s experiments with black, he had demonstrated how black can both radiate and kill light. But by 1921, with three monochrome panels, Rodchenko had reasoned himself out of painterly practice altogether. No more figurative representation, he said. Each surface was a plane and must be painted as such:

“I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: it’s over. Basic colours. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no representation”.

To formalise this close, he co-curated an exhibition of five changing and mostly painted artworks by each of five Constructivist artists – titled 5 X 5 = 25 – to bid a farewell to painting. And so he finally made the logical hop off the canvas and into built construction itself.

Vladimir Mayakovsky

Vladimir Mayakovsky

Only he didn’t. Like most Constructivists the resources were not forthcoming for him to make such a transition. Russia was in an extremely bad way in the years after the revolution, people were starving and the economy was wrecked. In 1921 Lenin decided to re-permit limited private enterprise as part of his New Economic Policy (NEP). Rodchenko, along with the Futurist poet and former revolutionary Mayakovsky, formed ‘Advertisement Constructor Mayakovsky Rodchenko’ which made an advertising creative of Rodchenko and a copy-writer of Mayakovsky. Bolsheviks cried Capitalism at the NEP. Mayakovsky responded (comforted himself?) in his manifesto ‘Agitation and Advertising’ by casting his and Rodchenko’s work as political agitation:

“The bourgeoisie knows the power of advertising. Advertising is industrial, commercial agitation. Not a single business, especially not the steadiest, runs without advertising. It is the weapon that mows down the competition … But face to face with the NEP, in order to popularize the state and proletarian organizations, offices and products, we have to put into action the weapons, which the enemy also uses, including advertising”.

Under the New Economic Policy Rodchenko and Mayakovsky collaborated to promote biscuits, cigarettes and shopping centres.

That is a sketch of the rather brilliant, rather chilling, Rodchenko. I’d also like to forget the hammer and sickle merchandise – brooches, headscarfs, aprons – arrayed in the Tate Modern shop. The USSR was a totalitarian regime built on the sacrifice of 15 million lives. Soviet leaders then proceeded to defile these symbols and their vision in much the same way that Hitler defiled the hooked cross and its vision of a purified world. I baulk to see those symbols used stylistically or politically, particularly by intellectual visitors to art galleries. The presence of the hammer and sickle resurrected the appearance of the Soviet flag at the recent Put People First demonstration and made me half wonder, given that Fascism and Communism were both palingenetic responses to similar global phenomena (industrialisation, war, the retreat of God, anomie), whether the reappearance of Soviet trappings meant we would sooner or later see another Fascist moment with swastika brooches at the Tate. Matt and I toyed with the idea of buying a print of a Rodchenko poster proclaiming that Trade Unionists had nothing to fear from Lenin’s New Economic Policy, but we quickly decided that, in common with all Constructivist art, it was no fitting ornament for a home.

Liubov Popova

Liubov Popova

I intended to write this piece about Liubov Popova, but now I realise that less proposes itself. I have to think harder about her – which I must because this, I have a hunch, is precisely how women disappear from history. Unlike Rodchenko, she didn’t spend much time reflecting on her practice for posterity, and there was little sense of her own importance. In order to persuade her brother to part with some of her works on plywood, a latter-day collector had to provide him with alternative weatherproofing for the windows of his dacha. Not that she didn’t design on an epic scale – The Struggle and Victory of the Soviets was a revolutionary spectacle involving 2,000 participants which, given the current famine, would have been Mugabe-ishly indecent to stage. Like Rodchenko her works were cold and impersonal – after typhoid killed her husband and ravaged her own health in 1919, her return to painting reveals nothing of her state of mind.This was the Constructivist way.

What animates her painting is the will to escape the canvas and plywood – it has an energy which Rodchenko’s pedantic ruler-and-compass work with lines lacks, for me. Her early works, first Painterly Architectronics and Painterly Constructions but particularly her Space Force Constructions remind me, in the way they seem to try to free themselves from the flat plane, of geese taking off from water. Prior to her migration into free-standing theatrical sets and textiles, she too tried to escape representational forms and attain for many works the status of object in their own right by experimenting with planes and texturing the surfaces with powdered metal and wood.

Ultimately she took off from the flat into stage sets and textiles. Her fabrics were intended to be affordable and distinctive and in this work she felt she connected with the proletariat:

“…no single artistic success gave me such profound satisfaction as the sight of a peasant woman buying a piece of my fabric for a dress.”

However, Useless as a Church points out that her rational dress designs, strangely androgynous considering they were after all dresses, didn’t take off and she didn’t seem to have worn them herself.

Like Rodchenko, Popova sought the obliteration of the individual from artworks. 1922′s stage production of The Magnanimous Cuckold featured her set design, a stylised mill with working parts, and costumes which recast the human actor as an abstract form in the construction.

I think the exhibition would have depressed Popova and Rodchenko, who wouldn’t have felt the punters reflected well on the work. The gallery setting too would have reminded them of their ultimate failure to actualise their utopia. Rodchenko was strikingly previous when he mused in 1927:

“When I look at the number of paintings I have painted, I sometimes wonder what I shall do with them, there are over ten years work in them. But they are as useless as a church. They serve no purpose whatsoever.”

In fact, they form the bulk of his legacy. And people enjoy visiting churches – for the atmosphere.

But the exhibition kept faith with the emotionlessness of Constructivism in at least one important way – it was exceedingly thin on biographical detail. We find out little of their early life or how they came to associate. Or maybe this is because if biographies had been permitted to intrude, communicative Rodchenko would have overshadowed discreet Popova even more.

I also wondered – knowing little about this time – about the extent to which, prescient of the repressive direction which Soviet socialism, with the individual relegated to the status of a single, dispensable cell in a larger corpus, must take, the self-negation of  the Constructivists was in some way an act of self-preservation. Intellectuals would be thought un-heroic in Soviet Russia – Arthur Koestler (in Arrow In The Blue I think) acutely records the inverted snobbery of the times, his own occupational embarrassment and his disappointment when turned down for farm work and consigned to his customary writing work with a gentle reproach along the lines of “from each according to his ability”. In those times artists could not remain as they had been, and the parameters of their evolution were limited by Soviet totalitarianism. These artists were the heralds of a new civilisation, and that civilisation was supposed to be dominated by the miner, the factory operative, the agricultural labourer. It was a social handicap, in the early days, to have expressed speculative thoughts for a living. The end of artistic speculation was supposed to have arrived.

Artists always ask themselves what they are for. It’s infinitely better if ‘for‘ is in the sense of values, rather than in the instrumental, utilitarian sense of Rodchenko’s and Popova’s investigations. In attracting and accepting the official backing of totalitarians, they largely abrogated their artistic obligations with regards to the establishment. This was not a concern for them – they were happy with the establishment, mistaking it for their utopia incarnate. I hope art doesn’t see the likes of Rodchenko and Popova again.

Pomegranates and Myrrh – the Palestinian struggle for a culture

The assault on Palestinian culture posed by the Israeli occupation is well-recognised, but it is not the only threat.

Najwa Najjar’s Pomegranates and Myrrh is a bitter-sweet Palestinian film, intriguingly described as a crowd-pleaser, a political, and a story of strong women. Something about Palestinians which hasn’t been mediated by Hamas supporters. The Sundance Film Festival synopsis:

“Dancer Kamar’s joyful wedding to Zaid is followed almost immediately by Zaid’s imprisonment in an Israeli jail for refusing to give up his land. Free-spirited Kamar wants to support her husband and be a dutiful wife but struggles with the idea of giving up dance and her own dreams. Matters are complicated when a new dance instructor, Kais, returns to the studio after many years in Lebanon and takes a special interest in Kamar. She struggles to deal with the weight of Kais’s attention, which brings to the surface her attempts to balance her own desires with her duties as the wife of a prisoner.Like the character of Kamar herself, Najwa Najjar’s filmmaking (in her debut feature) is matter-of-fact about Kamar’s situation. Instead of manufacturing melodrama, Najjar stays focused on her protagonist’s insistence on seeing her life, like anyone else’s, as an opportunity for joy. The constant interference of the external conflict—her husband’s arrest, the squatters on her land, and the soldiers filling the streets—is an unavoidable aspect of Kamar’s existence but one that she will not allow to deter her. Najjar’s intimate storytelling and Yasmine Al Massri’s sensitive portrayal of Kamar create a film that addresses honestly the way a woman might face the realities of life in modern-day Palestine while refusing to be defined by them.”

Najjar says:

“I didn’t want my film to be a violent film of the kind you see in cinemas,” explains Najwa Najjar. “Zaid and everything he went through was important for me. We have all seen violence before. And so have the viewers.”

“Take, for example, the scene showing the quiet determination of the settlers who strap machine guns to their bodies and set up tents on the family’s land, or the constant presence of Israeli soldiers, whether it be at checkpoints or in the streets of Ramallah. Anyone who has been in the occupied territories in recent years knows that this is an accurate representation of life there: the omnipresence of the occupying forces, the helplessness of the Palestinians, and their attempts not to spend their lives being full-time victims and not staring at the occupying forces like a frightened rabbit stares at a snake.

“We are not what you see on television,” explains Najjar. “There is a feeling of solidarity, of holding together, among many Palestinians. While there are political problems with Hamas and Fatah and the things that are happening in the country, these political disputes are the result of the fact that there is a lack of vision for the future. Among Palestinians themselves, however, there are not as many conflicts.”

The fact that Qamar does not want to stop dancing and insists on culture in her life while everything around her becomes politicised, is also an expression of the political disillusionment of the young film-maker.

“I think that culture is the soul, the heart-beat of a nation. It is what remains when politics fails. Politics is leading us nowhere. So at least leave us our culture. That, at least, is something we can pass on to future generations.”

The film looks quite steamy – the tempestuous women, the smouldering dance teacher. Hamas inmates of Israeli jails are campaigning to have it banned – this reminds me of working in HMP Bedford (where I was switchboard operator and made particular efforts to put wives through to husbands – although it wasn’t strictly permitted) and how being inside and imagining your other half with another man is terrible for morale. In the case of ideological hate-mongers, perhaps it’s better if morale is low. But then again perhaps it just makes them more hateful.

Daoud Kuttab in The Huffington Post:

“While many welcomed it, some felt that somehow Najjar treaded on forbidden territory when she took the audience inside the head of a liberal prisoner’s wife, and then showed her conflict about going back to dancing and even exchanging special looks with her trainer. Some seemed to think it lunacy, others treason.

A report highlighting the angry statement of a viewer appeared in the media and seems to have made its way inside the Israeli prisons where a campaign began by Hamas prisoners asking for the film to be banned because it negatively portrayed the prisoners’ wives.

The filmmaker’s protagonist couple are patriotic Palestinians from the nationalist liberal wing of Palestinian struggle today, yet this did not stop the campaign. Some see this campaign as a reflection of the overall Palestinian political and social divide. Counter-campaigns, one led by well-respected Palestinian novelist Lina Bader, have also been initiated.”

(Liana Badr?)

“One of the problems facing Palestinian creative talent and intellectuals is that they often give themselves the awesome difficulty of having to carry the entire Palestinian cause on their shoulders. Even paintings have to have the colours of the Palestinian flag, or some kind of embroidery, or cactus, or Handallah, or the map of Palestine in order to pass the test of patriotism. But artists are not obliged to do that.

A Palestinian fiction need not be the official narrative of all Palestinians, neither should any other work of art of culture have that requirement. By attempting to mass everything into every work, Palestinians fall into exactly the stereotypical trap that has been set up for them.”

The trailer: